McCain has edge over Obama, Hillary in presidential race

By Arun Kumar, IANS

Washington : Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain poses a stiff challenge to either of his potential Democratic opponents Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in the November election, according to a new poll.

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The Vietnam war veteran is viewed favourably by 61 percent of all registered voters, including a plurality of Democrats, the Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll found. In head-to-head contests, McCain led Clinton by six percentage points (46 percent to 40 percent) and Obama by two points (44 percent to 42 percent).

Neither lead is commanding given that the survey, conducted Feb 21-25, has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, but the findings underscore the difficulties ahead for Democrats as they hope to retake the White House during a time of war, the Times said.

While both front runner Obama and former first lady Clinton have made ending America’s involvement in the war a centrepiece of their campaigns, voters gave McCain far higher marks in terms of experience, fighting terrorism and dealing with the situation in Iraq.

And even though a clear majority of those polled said the war was not worth waging, about half of registered voters said McCain, who has supported the Bush administration’s military strategy, was better able to deal with Iraq.

The survey showed that McCain’s potential advantages extend even to domestic issues, where he is considered to be most vulnerable.

Even though McCain has joked about his lack of expertise on economic issues, voters picked him over Obama, 42 percent to 34 percent, as being best able to handle the economy. However, Clinton led McCain on that issue, 43 percent to 34 percent.

In the Democratic race, the survey showed, Obama’s support has increased across all of the party’s key constituencies.

The Illinois senator now leads Clinton, 48 percent to 42 percent, among Democratic primary voters nationally – a far cry from his double-digit deficits throughout 2007 and the first weeks of 2008.

Obama’s lead over Clinton in the Times/Bloomberg poll comes in the wake of his 11 consecutive primary and caucus victories. He is ahead in the closely contested race for delegates to the party’s national nominating convention and in recent days has made gains in the key states of Ohio and Texas, which hold primaries Tuesday.

At least two other national surveys released this week have shown Obama taking the lead among Democratic voters – a development that puts further pressure on Clinton to win the upcoming primaries or face calls from some party leaders to drop out.

The poll suggests that the once-muscular grip on the Democratic base held by Clinton and her husband, the former president, has loosened quickly as they have intensified their attacks on Obama and tried to paint him as ill-prepared for the presidency.

One of the most striking findings is that when Democratic voters are asked whom they support now, regardless of whom they voted for in an earlier primary or caucus, Obama leads by nearly 20 points, 55 percent to 37 percent.

But whether Clinton or Obama emerges with the nomination, McCain will be a force to reckon with.

When compared to either Democrat, McCain is rated as the “strongest leader”. He easily outpaces both when voters are asked who has the “right experience to be president,” beating Obama by 31 points and Clinton by 12.

But the survey did expose some weaknesses for McCain.

Nearly one in four Republican primary voters said they were “unhappy” that he would win the GOP nomination. And of those voters, about half said they would either vote for another candidate in November or stay home, an ominous sign for Republicans at a time when Democrats are expected to be highly motivated.

Both Clinton and Obama beat McCain when voters are asked who would best handle healthcare and “substantially change the way things are done in Washington”.

And on an issue dear to core conservative voters-battling illegal immigration-Clinton scored slightly better than McCain, a result of the Republican’s past support for creating a path to citizenship for those here illegally. Against Obama, McCain scored better on that issue.